Poor grades for Chicago Bears in loss to 49ers

4 of 5

Dec 6, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould (9) reacts after missing a field goal during the second half against the San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field. The 49ers won 26-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams: C-

Despite the offense’s foibles and the defense’s late fourth quarter meltdown, the Bears still had a great shot to win Sunday’s game thanks to an unexpected special teams play.

Then they sent the game to overtime thanks to another unexpected special teams play.

Dec 6, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Deonte Thompson (14) runs past San Francisco 49ers punter Bradley Pinion (5) during a kick return in the second half at Soldier Field. San Francisco won 26-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with the good: the Bears’ return game is starting to round into form. Deonte Thompson might be the kickoff returner for the next couple years. After the defense allowed the 49ers to tie the game at 20, Thompson took the kickoff 74 yards, setting Chicago up for what should have been the game-winning field goal. Thompson has looked solid on only five kickoff returns, and should have the job for the rest of the year.

On punt return, the Bears showed some creativity by having Marc Mariani pretend to field a first-quarter punt, only to have Bryce Callahan catch the ball on the other side of the field and return it for a quick touchdown. A penalty brought the play back, but the effort to create something on the third unit was a good sign. Mariani also looked solid returning punts, average about seven yards on five punt returns.

In terms of kick coverage, punter Pat O’Donnell averaged almost 43 yards per kick, and the Bears held the 49ers to zero net punt return yards. Kickoff coverage remains a point of concern, as the Bears allowed a 40-yard return to Bruce Ellington.

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On the bad side, Josh Bellamy – who I think has had a solid season filling in on offense – had a terrible penalty that gave San Francisco good field position on the drive that ultimately tied the game at 20 in the fourth quarter.

Bellamy was flagged for a low block – a 15-yard penalty – meaning that the solid work by the coverage unit in halting the kick return at the 49ers’ 21-yard-line instead gave Gabbert and company the ball at their own 36. That can’t happen, particularly in that situation, where your defense, even though it played well, needs all the help it can get to finish the game.

Now, to the part that no one wants to talk about.

Dec 6, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Gerald Hodges (51) reacts after Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould (9), in background, missed a field goal in the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Robbie Gould missed a pair of kicks Sunday, including one that should have been a chip-shot game winner from 35 yards out. He’d already missed a 40-yarder in the third quarter, but had nailed a 40-yarder and a 51-yarder earlier in the game. But the 35-yard shot late in the game was a lousy kick, as Gould missed not by feet but by yards. It was a backbreaker, to be sure.

Gould has made plenty of big kicks in his career – including a game winner earlier this season against Oakland – but his 83.9 percent field goal percentage is below his career average of 85.4 percent and the Bears are 25th in touchbacks (not helping that lousy coverage unit), indicating Gould’s leg strength could be on the wane.

He’s still a great kicker – a bad game or two doesn’t change that – but the Bears may need to consider carrying an extra kicker next year to consistently kick touchbacks, forcing teams to start on their own 20.

Next: Right The Ship